Soft palate cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the cells of the soft palate. Your soft palate is located on the upper portion of the back of your mouth, behind your teeth.

Soft palate cancer is considered a type of throat cancer. Doctors treat soft palate cancer similarly to the way they treat other types of throat cancers — often with a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

  • Teamwork. At Mayo Clinic, ear, nose and throat (otorhinolaryngology) specialists work as a team with radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, pathologists, dietitians and plastic surgeons to care for people with soft palate cancer. Other professionals are included as needed.
  • Experience. Mayo Clinic doctors have extensive experience diagnosing and treating soft palate cancer. Each year, Mayo Clinic doctors care for about 2,000 people with soft palate cancer.
  • Latest treatment options. Mayo Clinic doctors use the latest treatment technology. For instance, Mayo Clinic surgeons may use transoral robotic surgery to remove soft palate cancers. Mayo Clinic radiation oncologists use highly focused radiation techniques, such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy, to target cancer cells.
  • A full range of treatment options to consider. Mayo Clinic doctors will work with you to review all of your treatment options and choose the treatment that best suits your needs and goals. The range of treatments offered to people with soft palate cancer includes radiation, chemotherapy and several surgical procedures, including minimally invasive and traditional operations.
  • Comprehensive cancer center. Mayo Clinic Cancer Center meets strict standards for a National Cancer Institute comprehensive cancer center, which recognizes scientific excellence and a multidisciplinary approach to cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., are ranked among the Best Hospitals for cancer by U.S. News & World Report. Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., is ranked high performing for cancer by U.S. News & World Report.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., are ranked among the Best Hospitals for cancer by U.S. News & World Report. Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., is ranked high performing for cancer by U.S. News & World Report.

Experts at Mayo Clinic in Arizona use a team approach to treat soft palate cancer. Ear, nose and throat experts (otorhinolaryngologists) work with specialists in radiation oncology and hematology and oncology to care for people with soft palate cancer.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 800-446-2279 (toll-free) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

Experts at Mayo Clinic in Florida use a team approach to treat soft palate cancer. Ear, nose and throat experts (otolaryngologists) work with specialists in radiation oncology and hematology and oncology to care for people with soft palate cancer.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 904-953-0853 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

Experts at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota use a team approach to treat soft palate cancer. Ear, nose and throat experts (otorhinolaryngologists) work with specialists in radiation oncology, medical oncology, and oral and maxillofacial surgery to care for people with soft palate cancer.

If you are struggling to quit smoking, Mayo Clinic's Nicotine Dependence Center can work with you to develop the motivation and skills needed to stop using tobacco.

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Tests and procedures used to diagnose soft palate cancer include:

  • Examining your soft palate. Your doctor will use a mirror or tiny camera to examine your soft palate and other structures in your throat.
  • Removing a tissue sample for testing. Your doctor will remove an area of suspicious tissue (biopsy) and send it to a lab for testing. In the lab, specially trained doctors (pathologists) will look for signs of cancer.
  • Taking imaging tests. To better understand the size of your cancer and to look for signs that cancer may have spread beyond your soft palate, your doctor may recommend imaging tests, such as computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET).

Treatment for soft palate cancer depends on many factors, such as the size and location of your cancer, your overall health and your preferences. Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery. During surgery for soft palate cancer, skilled surgeons trained in removing throat cancers will work to remove your cancer.

    If the cancer is small, it may be removed during a short operation that won't require a hospital stay. Larger cancers may require more-extensive operations. When the cancer has spread to the neck lymph nodes, lymph node removal may be necessary.

    Mayo Clinic's innovative surgical techniques can remove the cancer and provide the best possible function. For example, in transoral robotic surgery, which is less invasive than conventional surgery, skilled surgeons use special instruments to view the soft palate through the mouth and nose.

  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy can be used alone or with chemotherapy or surgery to treat soft palate cancers of all stages.

    Highly skilled radiation oncologists provide state-of-the-art radiation therapy at Mayo Clinic, including intensity-modulated radiation therapy, 3-D conformal radiation therapy, stereotactic radiosurgery, brachytherapy, and small field conformal radiation therapy.

  • Chemotherapy. Experienced medical oncologists prescribe chemotherapy — which can be administered through a vein, by mouth or both — to treat soft palate cancer that has spread beyond the throat. Chemotherapy may also be combined with radiation therapy.
  • Reconstructive surgery. Depending on the location and spread of the cancer, reconstructive surgery may be necessary. Experienced surgeons work to improve appearance and function through reconstruction of the soft palate to restore speech and swallowing function.
  • Rehabilitative services. To assist in recovery, health care providers at Mayo Clinic offer many rehabilitative services, including speech therapy, dietary counseling and physical and occupational therapy. In addition, the Nicotine Dependence Center can help people who want to stop using tobacco.

Mayo Clinic doctors and scientist are working to develop new ways of diagnosing and treating soft palate cancer and other throat cancers. Areas of focus include head and neck surgery research.

Cancer research is conducted in coordination with the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center. The Mayo Clinic Cancer Center receives funding from the National Cancer Institute and is designated as a comprehensive cancer center — recognition for an institution's scientific excellence and multidisciplinary resources focused on cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Publications

See a list of publications from Mayo Clinic authors on soft palate cancer on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Jan. 31, 2014